Today the head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, will announce the new school data dashboards and suggest that some governors should be paid to improve performance and efficiency. Whilst the attention being given to governance is to be welcomed, I think we should not forget why we have governors in the first place.
Schools do not exist to produce data points. Nor do they exist solely to produce children who are literate and numerate. They exist to serve society: to help young people function well in that society and help it to grow. It is easy for anyone within an organisation to start to see that organisation as the end in itself and its way of doing things as the only way those things could be done. Governing bodies are there to ensure that schools maintain the link with their core purpose, to serve their community. The community, through governing bodies, employs trained, professional teachers to meet the needs we identify in society. We want them to lead on how we achieve the aims, the pedagogy, but we need to ensure that the community’s aims remain paramount.
If governors become paid professionals then there is a danger that they become closer to the system they need to hold to account than the people they are supposed to represent.
There is a similar danger with the data dashboards. There is no doubt that better data, which is presented more accessibly, is a good thing; but it becomes easy to see it as the only measure of value, precisely because it is easy to compare. The fact that what is on the dashboard is decided by Ofsted, not by the school or the LA should raise concern that it may not reflect what is most valued locally. Governing bodies need to ensure that they are clear on the values and purpose of their school, and that they have ways to see whether it is meeting those. They should not assume that just because their school is hitting Ofsted’s targets it is serving the purpose of the local community. To borrow a phrase, governing bodies need to ensure that they can measure what they value, not value what they can measure.